My love for horror culture began as early as my Sesame Street years. I always made it a point to stay tuned after the ‘Street’ to watch the sometimes-spooky adventures of Doctor Who. As I grew older, kiddie-targeted horror films like Monster Squad, The Gate, Watcher in the Woods and Gremlins perfectly served my need for a good scare. When it came to reading, I could always turn to a good Christopher Pike or R.L. Stine book. Though I did sneak around and discover Jason, Freddy, and Stephen King at a way-too-young age, when my mom caught me, I still had many age-appropriate options in all mediums to fall back on.
Today’s kids may not have the same type of kid-targeted scare flicks, nor can I imagine the same Gremlins licensing program in place today, but there is plenty of printed material to provide a friendly fright. While surfing one of my favorite fanboy magazines, I chanced upon a new all-ages graphic novel that immediately piqued my interest. Released late last year, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (Arcana Studios, $14.95) introduces the renowned horror writer to a new audience.
Howard and his huggable pet
When it comes to the horror and phantasmagoric images that often make up the storylines, much of it traces back to the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, or H.P. Lovecraft as he is often known. Most prolific in the early 1900’s, Lovecraft is known for his fantasy and science fiction-infused horror, described as “weird fiction” at the time. Usually centering on a protagonist trying to hold fast to his sanity while coming to terms with earth-shattering “cosmic horror,” his novels were also built around his own complicated fictional alien lore called the Cthulhu Mythos. His short stories and novellas were often referred to as paranoid, grim and sometimes xenophobic.
This is all heady, complicated stuff that is anything but kid-friendly. However, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom from Bruce Brown, with art by Renzo Podesta, brings Lovecraft to an all-ages audience. While the book does not talk down to them, it also does not require them to contemplate humanity’s place in the universe. The story itself uses the actual H.P. Lovecraft as the center of the story, focusing on a six-year-old protagonist named Howard Lovecraft. The story also employs some actual biographical facts, including his father’s commitment to a sanitarium. In this novel, Howard’s mother gives him an old book supposedly written by his institutionalized dad. When Howard reads the book, he accidently opens up a hole to another world. There, young Howard is forced to battle evil monstrosities and save the Frozen Kingdom, alongside his new pal, the giant creature he affectionately calls Spot.
Author Bruce Brown shows respect for his young audience from page one, choosing a quote from Edgar Allen Poe to set the tone for the novel and to let readers know he isn’t talking down to them. Podesta’s art also shows the same type of dark sophistication seen in some of the adult horror comics, while not being too graphic to scare off young readers. There is nothing they haven’t seen in the stylized worlds of a Harry Potter film, with the main character given a softer look I would describe as manga-meets-Secret of Kells. The “Lovecraftian” world of hidden tomes, secret universes and monstrous beings also exists in Brown’s book, yet the hopeless dread is scaled back. And where a real Lovecraft story may be solely focused on the protagonist’s intellectual journey into madness, this novel focuses more on the adventurous aspects, something that is easier to grasp for a younger crowd. Humor wasn’t exactly one of Lovecraft’s trademarks, but ‘Frozen Kingdom’ also adds this in, having some fun with the eccentricities of the monstrous creations.
This book is the type of stuff I would have gravitated to as a youth, yet was often hard to find. I also recommend this novel for the vocabulary challenges. No, it won’t send kids running to the dictionary/Wikipedia every two seconds, but Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom doesn’t shy away from “big people” words. Finally, for genre-loving parents like myself, this is a great way to get your tween/teen interested in the works of a classic writer while showing them that horror didn’t start with twinkling vampires and sexy werewolves. Bruce Brown is hoping to turn the story of the young ‘Howard Lovecraft’ into a trilogy, if sales permit. We hope you will go grab a copy so we can make it happen!
Purchase your copy now and/or read a few sample pages on the official site.
Howard gets his surprise tome
Howard meets Spot
As declared in my previous post, I get very excited when I hear of a cool kid’s project coming out of the Beantown area. While many of my Boston compadres may get giddy with pride over the Red Sox, this media geek does the same for companies and talent putting together quality projects for the kid demographic. So, I was thrilled to learn that my newly-acquainted chai buddy Dave Schlafman was the illustrator of a tween book series, Monster Squad.
Tween-friendly terrors: Monster Squad Cover Art
Written by author Laura Dower (From the Files of Madison Finn), the Monster Squad series is already up to book three, with the fourth set for a release this spring. The series focuses on a rag-tag group of four tweens recruited by director Oswald Leery to stop his own B-movie monster creations from wreaking havoc. It seems Leery accidentally brought them to life and only monster-loving Jesse Ranger and his friends can put them back where they belong.
Author Laura Dower clearly knows how to write for the youth demographic, with over 20 entries in her From the Files of Madison Finn series, a slew of non-fiction titles and even some licensed novels including “spooky” titles like Scooby Doo and Goosebumps. She is well-matched in artist Dave Schlafman, whose day job is creative director at children’s media company CloudKid Studio. CloudKid is already getting industry accolades for the ground-up creation of the PBS web property Fizzy’s Lunch Lab. Dave has also designed, animated and illustrated for youth-friendly clients like Hasbro Toys, Parker Brothers, WGBH, and American Greetings. After sitting down with him, it is clear he has a passion for this demographic and has a true desire to bring new and interesting character creations to them.
The Squad’s All Here
Between working on Fizzy’s and planning his next project, Dave was kind enough to let me throw a few questions at him regarding the Monster Squad book series. Oh, and while Monster Squad has no relation to the cult 1987 film of the same name, Schlafman was quite a fan of the kid-targeted horror film.
Nugget Island: How did the Monster Squad project come to be?
Dave Schlafman: I always wanted to get into publishing, but always thought I needed an agent. I was contacted out-of-the-blue by a Grosset and Dunlap (Penguin) book designer who stumbled on my website. I did a round of sketches (as a tryout), and the author, editor, and art director loved my silly characters. It was a perfect fit for everyone involved.
NI: What inspired the look and feel of the Monster Squad illustrations?
DS: I always start my projects with research, so I looked at old movie posters and horror movie characters. Then, I just dove right in. I wanted the style to be cartoony but not too cartoony. It was great working with the art team from Penguin, because they let me run with EVERYTHING. They gave me a lot of creative freedom. I first designed/illustrated the covers, which gave me a chance to explore the character designs of the monsters – did lots of really rough sketches. Once, it came time to illustrate the interiors, I had a good handle on things. It was a really fun process.
NI: Were you a monster/genre film lover as a kid?
DS: Yes! I loved My Pet Monster, The Monster Squad movie, and even horror movies – LOVED Tales from the Crypt. As a kid, I was drawn to anything that was out-of-this-world “fantastic”. Things like M.A.S.K., Nintendo Classics, M.U.S.C.L.E. Men, etc. My childhood definitely has a huge influence on the type of work I’m doing now. I think the ’00s were a time of really “dark” content for kids – maybe a post 911 influence. I hope the next 10 years can bring the innocence back with silly adventures that kids can lose themselves in. Monster Squad is a perfect example of the type of media that inspired me as a kid.
NI: How much did you collaborate directly with the author?
DS: Laura Dower reached out to me early on in the process and we were able to have some great back-and-forth, but most of the creative notes came from the publisher. Laura and I touched base every few weeks to talk about things, which was beyond helpful. She’s full of amazing energy and we hope to collaborate on a project together in the future.
NI: What are the future plans for the Monster Squad series?
DS: I hope Laura and I will be able to work on more of these – but no word from the publisher. The fourth book is due out April 15th.
NI: Has this project opened the door for any other kids’ book projects?
DS: Not professionally. I’ve been working on a number of book proposals and ideas, but I’ve been pretty busy over the last six months producing my first animated series for PBS. Once things slow down, I’m hoping to find a book agent and explore children’s publishing a bit more. One thing at a time!
Check out the Monster Squad series now on Amazon. Also, take a peek at some sample illustrations below, straight from the pages of the series.
All images courtesy of Penguin Group USA